Last updated: July 18. 2013 2:32PM - 443 Views
Paul Adkins
Sports Editor

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CHAPMANVILLE – The British are mad about their football, or as Americans call it, “soccer.”

Soccer is wildly popular and has been the top sport in the United Kingdom since the 1860s.

Millions play it.

Millions watch it.

It’s a passion.

The English Premier League, a professional men’s league for association football clubs, is considered among the world’s best.

The famed Manchester United club, a winner of 13 league championships, is probably the best-known pro soccer team in the world.

Although no United Kingdom football club currently exists at the international level as there are currently separate teams representing each of the countries of the UK (England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland), soccer teams representing the British Isles in the FIFA World Cup and the Olympic games always stack up very well against the world.

Area soccer players were able to get a taste of that world-class British soccer this week at Chapmanville as the Challenger Sports/British Soccer Camp was held at the Mullins Sports Complex on Sawmill Road.

For the second straight year, Challenger Sports brought in two of its camp instructors to teach the area youth about the world’s game.

Soccer is a growing sport in the West Virginia Coalfields.

Although there are still no high school teams in Logan County, the Coalfield Youth Soccer League is filling that void.

A total of 350 boys and girls took part in the CYSL’s spring season which concluded in early June. Close to 40 area youth took part in the weeklong soccer camp which ran Monday through Friday at the soccer complex.

The players received instruction from two Englishmen – Ross Lawrence and Johnny Hawman – who work for Challenger Sports and are touring the United States this summer with the organization.

“I’ve been doing this for about three or four months in America,” said Lawrence, who hails from Bridgewater, England, a town between Plymouth and Bristol in the southern part of the island. “I’ve been doing camps like this working with kids. This is Johnny’s first one. He coaches back in England. I’ve been working with Challenger and we do camps mostly in the United States and we also do camps in Canada and a few in Brazil as well. They are trying to expand.”

Hawman came to Chapmanville and the U.S. just this week. He calls Newcastle, England, his hometown. He said he will be in America until the late summer conducting soccer camps for his company.

“This is my first camp. I arrived here last Saturday,” Hawman said. “I’ve really enjoyed it and loved every minute of it. I will be here doing camps until mid-September.”

Hawman said he’s seen much improvement from the soccer campers at Chapmanville just in the week that he was here.

“I’ve seen the difference from when we first got here until now. It’s a massive reward for us personally,” he said.

Lawrence concurred.

“I’ve been working with a club from Connecticut and I’ve seen a big difference,” he said. “I’m not a big-headed British soccer player but I have seen a big difference. It’s good to work with them and seeing them enjoy themselves and have fun. All of them are fantastic.”

Hawman was told about the growth of the world’s game here in Logan County.

“That’s fantastic,” he said.

After the camp at Chapmanville was complete, the two are packing up and heading to the next camp.

“We’re here until Saturday and we’re stationed in the Baltimore region,” Lawrence said. “That includes West Virginia, Virginia, Maryland, Delaware and Pennsylvania.”

Soccer has seen its growth in the United States over the last 20 years.

The catalyst was in 1994 when the United States hosted the FIFA World Cup and the American team surprisingly reached the Round of 16 after a 2-1 upset win over Columbia.

Attendance at U.S. venues in Pontiac, Mich., Stanford, Calif., Pasadena, Calif., Dallas, Orlando, New York, Chicago, Washington and Boston exceeded all expectations. In fact, the average attendance of 69,000 per match is still a record for the World Cup.

The U.S. team has seemed to be competitive ever since after a brief hiccup in 1998 when the American men were last place in the 32-team World Cup field.

The Americans have qualified for every World Cup ever since. The U.S. was absent from the World Cup from 1954-86 as soccer’s popularity declined sharply in this country.

Although sports like basketball, baseball and football (known as “American Football” across the globe) are still king, soccer is still on the up-and-up in this country, particularly with the youth.

The biggest growth and success has come from the U.S. women’s national team.

The American women won the first ever Women’s World Cup in 1991 and has been a world powerhouse ever since. It is currently ranked first in the world by the FIFA Women’s World Rankings. The team also won the 1999 Women’s World Cup, four Olympic Gold Medals in 1996, 2004, 2008 and 2012 in London and have also won nine Algarve cups.

The 1999 FIFA Women’s World Cup championship match between the United States and China drew a record 90,185 fans at the Rose Bowl. After a scoreless tie in regulation, the Americans won in a shootout. American women’s soccer then took off.

“Your women’s game is the best in the world. You could teach us a few things,” Lawrence said. “There are a few girls in this camp who are very good.”

The two Englishmen said they enjoyed their stay in the coalfields.

On Thursday, both were a bit surprised as a local supplied them with a British Union Jack flag which was used in the camp group photo.

“I have felt so welcome here. I’ve been here for four months. Johnny has only been here for the last week,” Lawrence said.

Hawman agreed.

“Everyone is so friendly and real genuine,” Hawman said. “The people are so nice.”

The two said they hope to see a few tourist sites in “The States” before heading back to England. Lawrence said he’s already been off to see New York City.

“I just got back from New York. You have to do the picture-taking there,” Lawrence said.

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